Detroit's Martha Reeves ready to return to the road at 79

Posted on 07/15/20 by Mark Hornbeck

Motown Diva Martha Reeves turned 79 on July 18, and make no mistake about this: She still has the spirit, the voice, and the love of life that has made her an international icon in the music business over a 65-year career.

Sure, like everyone else, the pandemic has slowed her down somewhat this year. Concert tours with the Vandellas to China and England were cancelled. She hasn’t played golf this summer. She can’t visit her beloved great-grandchildren in person.

But she has definite plans to get back to all that as soon as it’s safe.

“Of course I’ll be back on tour, probably in 2021. I see a light at the end of the tunnel. I’m tuned and ready to perform. I’m singing the scriptures every day, I’ve got my costumes cleaned and hanging up,” Reeves said from her Detroit high-rise home.

“I’m a singer. I don’t know anything else. And it’s so needed. What the world needs now, more than ever, is love and music.”

Ready to resume Dancing in the Street, some might say… or to disrupting aging, AARP would say.

Reeves says she is committed to the quarantine, the mask-wearing, the gloves, and the spray sanitizing to protect herself and others. She lives in a 27-story building, so she can’t take visitors.

“I have no plans for my birthday,” she said with a mock pouting tone. “I’ll be staying in my home, as I’ve been told to do, and watching my house plants grow.”

She can’t call on family and friends in person, but she stays in touch as kind of a combination life coach, spiritual adviser and confidence booster.

“I have been so celebrated in my life. Now it’s my time to turn my courage and faith to calm the spirits of those who reach out to me,” she said. “I probably spend eight hours a day on the phone.

I have been so celebrated in my life. Now it’s my time to turn my courage and faith to calm the spirits of those who reach out to me. I probably spend eight hours a day on the phone.
Martha Reeves

“People should not let this virus make them inactive,” Reeves added. “I’ve been talking to my friends about following the rules and to keep moving. There are ways you can help others who need a little confidence in these times.”

Among other things, the former Detroit City Councilwoman (2005-2009) is doing some work for AARP’s voter engagement campaign. She recorded a “She’s the Difference” video about the importance of women to get out and vote this year.

She has taken up the joy of cooking as someone who spent much of her life eating out and having others make meals for her. She continues her Bible study, answers fan mail, and “I figure out how to pay the bills with no income,” Reeves said. “I rely on my faith to keep me active.”

More than anything, she misses seeing, holding and hugging her two great-grandchildren.

“I thought grandchildren were a delight, but great-grandchildren, oh boy!” she said.

Asked about her take on Black Lives Matter protests this year following the murder charge against a Minneapolis police officer in the death of George Floyd, Reeves said she grew accustomed to dealing with racism during her early days on the road with the Motown Revue. She faced segregation and hatred at nearly every stop.

I have been on the road to freedom since 1962. The only differences now are there are fewer haters in the world, and people videotaping the cruelty.
Martha Reeves

“I have been on the road to freedom since 1962,” Reeves said. “The only differences now are there are fewer haters in the world, and people videotaping the cruelty. Never in my life did I think I’d see an actual murder with vengeance, hatred and violence.”

She calls Motown star Smokey Robinson “my hero,” as she recalls him putting a stop from the stage to segregation of concert audiences while burly security guards looked on with enmity. The result was people of all colors celebrating life and dancing together at their shows.

“That was always a good thing about Motown music,” Reeves said. “It was for everybody. All of our audiences were like confetti, all colors and creeds. It was nothing for me to see people mixing and blending. God made us all, we’re one people, we all have blood, we all have freedom, and we all should be of service to one another.”

The songstress always gets a kick out of hearing one of the Vandellas’ songs – “Heat Wave,” Nowhere to Run,” “Jimmy Mack,” and countless others – when she’s out somewhere. But there’s a special place in her soul for her signature hit, “Dancing in the Street.”

“The trumpets at the beginning remind me of a visit to Madrid, it sounds like the start of a bullfight. And then I can’t sit still,” Reeves said. “I sang it from my heart because I remember dancing in the street with my neighbors when I was young. Audiences always had the same reaction. They had to get up and dance. It’s a call to party.”

If Reeves has her way, it will be safe enough to resume the call to party very soon.

This story is provided by AARP Michigan. Visit the AARP Michigan page for more news, events, and programs affecting retirement, health care, and more.

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You can find CDC’s latest coronavirus information at cdc.gov/coronavirus; AARP information and resources are at aarp.org/coronavirus. En español, visite aarp.org/elcoronavirus.